Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD 4.16 Review – ‘What If…’
Previously on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: With the team overrun by LMDs, Daisy and Simmons had to escape SHIELD headquarters and determine how to save their friends. In the course of their escape, LMayD sacrificed herself heroically to give Daisy and Simmons a chance to save the real SHIELD agents, and Aida killed Ivanov’s human body, keeping his brain and head alive in a glass jar to control a robotic body and protect the Framework. Daisy and Simmons found their way into the Framework, where things were quite a bit different from reality.
Season 4, Episode 16: ‘What If…’
Daisy gets the text to wake up her boyfriend and while she believes it will be Lincoln, it’s actually Ward. Ward laments that they’ve spent more nights hunting Inhumans than at home, and Daisy asks who’s running the brief. Ward tells her that she got the text and reveals that in the Framework, she still goes by Skye. On the way to Hydra’s Triskelion, a news report talks about how dangerous Inhumans are, and in the garage, she has to watch as Hydra agents put the boots to an Inhuman.Ward apologizes for not accepting Daisy’s invitation to move in. Daisy says she wants to check her email, and she finds out that both Lincoln and Simmons are dead, Lincoln from testing and Simmons from some sort of contamination. Before Daisy can investigate further, May comes to fetch her for the briefing, and May is completely immune to Daisy’s attempts to reveal her true intentions.
Meanwhile, Simmons wakes up in a marshy area and claws out from beneath some vegetation. Gasping out that she was murdered, Simmons finds the remains of another body in the hole she’s standing in. Simmons scrambles away from the mass grave and finds herself at a chain link fence. She slips through a hole in the fence and sees a sign advertising the SHIELD Academy. Simmons flags down a car and the driver talks about Inhuman checkpoints and when Simmons pulls out her SHIELD ID, Julia forces her out of the car.
May leads the briefing, saying that the Doctor wants to get intelligence from an Inhuman detainee, who turns out to be the Senator’s brother under an assumed name. May puts “Skye” and Ward in charge of interrogating him, and Daisy starts questioning him about a missing truck while May looks on from the other side of a pane of two-way glass. Daisy goes after the validity of his identification card and asks if there is a threat within Hydra. Before Nadeer can answer, Ward punches him out.
Simmons stops in a diner and peruses a newspaper before “borrowing” keys and clothes from people in the diner. Before she can make her escape, she is confronted by a Hydra agent and then his partner, and they compel her to come with them. She gives them her name and one agent looks her up while the other insists he’s sure she’s lying. When the driver reveals that Jemma Simmons is dead, the passenger accuses her of false identification and opens a rear door to put her inside, but the driver reveals that the picture is actually Jemma. Seizing a moment of opportunity in the confusion, Jemma slams the passenger’s head in the door, grabs his weapon and shoots both agents with a round that paralyzes both of them with electricity. She hops in their car and drives away.
Coulson teaches a class of students about incidents involving Inhumans (including a sympathetic girl from Bahrain) and how Hydra saved a divided state. One of his students asks if Hydra wasn’t Nazis, and Coulson says Hydra has been around for thousands of years so they couldn’t have been Nazis. A pair of Hydra agents come to the classroom and grab a different student for “testing”, and they escort him out before Coulson resumes his lesson.
Ward and Skye argue about why Nadeer got quiet, and May storms in and throws water on him to wake him up. Nadeer reveals that May was the one who got things wrong in Bahrain, even if the Inhumans took the blame. May threatens to shoot him, but Daisy convinces her that he’s an asset and has Daisy escort him to the Doctor. Nadeer tells Daisy that the girl wasn’t killed in Bahrain and went on to kill hundreds in Cambridge, giving Hydra license to kill any Inhuman they wanted. Nadeer distracts Daisy and tries to escape, but he too gets shot with an electric round from one of the Doctor’s men. Daisy comes face-to-face with the Doctor – Fitz – and he accosts her for losing control of the prisoner. She says she would have caught him, but he tells her to come with him.
Meanwhile, Jemma sits on a bench and moves a rock to find a small device and then again to find a small blade to carve an X in the bench. She finds Coulson in the hydra sedan’s computer and goes to him, but he’s 100% committed to Hydra. He tells Simmons to get help and ushers her out, but she sees the hula dancer doll from T.A.H.I.T.I. and tries to use it to jog Coulson’s memory, but he insists that she leaves. She says she will, but that she won’t give up on him. He looks at the doll and then puts it on the shelf before calling to report “a subversive”.
At Alexander Pierce High School, Simmons confronts Coulson’s student (the one who asks about Hydra’s Nazi ties) for tagging her car. She talks about how Coulson used to be different and how he trained her and then she confirms that Hydra were Nazis. He gives her the keys to another car, she tells him not to let anyone forget that Hydra is Nazis, and then she drives away.
Daisy and Fitz watch as one of Fitz’ machines tests Nadeer for his powers (doing so without triggering Terragenesis) and Daisy tries to convince him that it’s wrong. Fitz stonewalls her and then sends her away when May storms in with a report on the subversive at the school. Fitz sends all of his forces to investigate and Daisy storms out, but not before she is confronted by Ward. She blames her erratic behavior on Ward shutting her down when she tried to take their relationship to the next level and says that she needs her space.
As Coulson goes through old files and mutters “It’s a magical place”, Daisy and Simmons meet up and share their experiences since waking up in the Framework. Before they can get too far, Ward confronts them and he and Daisy point their pistols at one another with Ward claiming that they need to talk. As Hydra agents close in, Ward asks if Simmons is Daisy’s source in the Resistance, and Daisy swears she has nothing to do with the Resistance. Ward shoots the first Hydra agent to arrive and says that he does before demanding Simmons’ keys to make their escape. With Hydra agents in hot pursuit, Ward reveals that he joined the Resistance to protect Daisy, who is an Inhuman, and that he was Nadeer’s mole.
May and the Doctor discuss the potential for a mole and Fitz tells her to treat the mole like a cancer. She vows to cut it out herself, but Fitz says she’s failed before and tells her to remember how she felt in Cambridge. Fitz asks if the drones got footage of the escapees and May confirms that they did but that it was sent directly to the director at her request. Meanwhile, in the safehouse apartment Ward set them up in, Simmons and Daisy discuss their plans and decide they need to wake up to talk to Yo-Yo and regroup with a plan. They try to use the device Simmons found under the rock to pull them out of the Framework, but it won’t work.
Fitz goes to see the Director, who is Aida and is known as Madame Hydra in this reality, and they discuss the fugitives. Aida is the one who cut off their escape plan and says she has surveillance on one of the fugitives. Fitz eventually gets angry and says that he needs to protect Aida, but she says it’s not his anger that she needs, but his creativity. They share a kiss and a meaningful stare.
Back at the high school, Coulson walks to his car and gets in, only to be startled by Daisy, who is sitting in his back seat. Coulson tells her it is not okay and insists that he hasn’t met Daisy. He continues to insist that it isn’t real and Daisy continues to beg him to remember her. He apologizes for not remembering and she says it’s not his fault and that he’s the one she goes to when she needs help because he’s the closest thing she has to family. She says she’d hoped he’d feel it too, and he remembers her name.
First off, the final black screen tribute to Bill Paxton was much appreciated, especially on an episode where we got to see a world where Hydra won.
As for the episode itself, as an unabashed fan of Marvel’s “What If…” and other alternate reality stories, this was exactly what I wanted to be. A little light on action, sure, but it was needed to establish the basic tenets of this new alterna-verse. As much as I love Mack (probably my favorite addition to an established cast of any show I’ve watched), it was really nice to see an episode that focused on all of the original members of the team and while some of the beats were predictable (hi, Ward as double agent good guy!), the execution was perfect.
Just like the previous episode that set this one up paid homage to classic “body snatcher” type scifi movies, this episode displayed the appropriate amount of reverence for the alternate reality movies and tv shows that came before it. A Rod Serling voiceover wouldn’t have felt out of place at the beginning of the episode, as this could have believably been a part of The Twilight Zone.
I was especially impressed by the fact that they didn’t really deviate much from the main characters’ personalities in flipping them to the Hydra side. Sure, Coulson was more docile than his 199999 self, and Fitz was less compassionate and much more ruthless, but to a member, you could certainly understand their motivations and how the butterfly effect from the change necessary to keep the real May docile and ensconced in the Framework would have pushed them down those paths.
And finally, I don’t know if Elizabeth Henstridge was actually dealing with an illness or not, but there was absolutely nothing wrong the extra huskiness in Jemma’s voice this episode.